2.06.2008

Encountering Poverty

So, this isn't particularly work-related to Starfish, but since this happened a couple days ago, I've been a little haunted by it and I'm hoping writing about it will help me think through this somehow.

Monday I was walking home from work as I always do. About two blocks from my apartment, I'm stopped on the sidewalk by a man going the opposite direction. He's a middle-aged, African-American guy, dressed moderately -- nothing flashy, maybe a little worn-looking, but nothing that says "homeless guy."

He asks me if I can spare some money for food for his kids. He then proceeds to tell me how he lives in an apartment building a few blocks over (it's a legit building) and how he's been laid-off from his former job and needs to feed his kids and could I spare a few bucks. He's well-spoken and my old reporter sense (maybe this is like Spidey-sense for journalists?) is telling me his story is true.

In my head, I'm thinking Well, I have a few bucks in my wallet, but I'm a VISTA so a few bucks really is it. And these few bucks have to last me through this weekend because I'm a VISTA and I'm living in poverty too. I asked the man if he'd stopped at the church up the street. It's where I attended and I know the deacons there try to help people when they can. The man said he had but that the pastor wasn't there. And I'm still thinking I could get out my wallet, but how do I know this guy's not going to rip the whole thing out of my hands. I've got credit cards. I've done the identity theft thing once and I'm not so keen on doing it again. And, really, I'm a VISTA! I'm living in poverty too. The fact that I'm dressed nice is a front! Really, I'm not as well-off as you think I look like I am!

I blow the guy off and eventually start walking away, shrugging that there's nothing I can do. Of course, I turn the corner and start thinking about what I could have done. I could have asked him to wait, gone up to my apartment, got the loaf of bread out of my freezer and my jar of peanut butter, or the package of spaghetti and jar of sauce I had and brought it back to him if he needed food for his family that badly.

And yeah, I'm a VISTA. I may not be as well-off as I wish I were, but I could have given him $4 worth of sauce and pasta and replaced it at the store the next time I shopped and not felt the pinch of my budget doing it.

Maybe he wouldn't have wanted that. Maybe my reporter sense was off and he really did just want cash for booze or drugs or something. Maybe he's got no hungry kids in an apartment a few blocks over.

Maybe the score after this round is Poverty: 1 Bethany the VISTA: 0.

When I cook that spaghetti this weekend, I doubt it will taste as good as it should. I wish I could find out what happened to him and his family. I wish I could rewind time and do something different.

1 comment:

slpenney said...

That is a tough call. You'll be better prepared to handle it next time.

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